I was supposed to go to Itbayat but the weather have other plans. Boat trips to the island was suspended for the next few days due to inclement weather and erratic waves. Since I had a flexible itinerary, I decided to take a detour to Sabtang Island instead. The smallest island of Batanes municipality is popular to day trippers from Batan Island. Personally, I would rather spend a night here. No matter how familiar I am with this island, I know I can find something new to do. For one, I haven’t stayed in Chavayan village yet. Or better, try the Old Procession Trail from Chavayan to Sumnanga. I have always been fascinated with that trail. I guess it’s about time I explore it.
Sabtang Island Detour
I had to chase the jeep from going to port that morning which leaves as early as 5:30am. Good thing it fueled up at the gas station before heading on its way. There were two boats to Sabtang that morning. By this time, I had been used to this kind of boat ride already. Sometimes I fear this kind of situations when the trip no longer excites me anymore. While some of the passengers expect a roller coaster ride, I was just in my corner of the boat, reading as if nothing was happening.
I had been trying to contact Mael, my tour guide and driver in Sabtang Island during my last visit. But I haven’t received any reply. He was not at the port as well. I decided to hire another tricycle to take me to Chavayan. I zoomed past the other tourist from tour groups straight to the southernmost village of the island. By this time, Sabtang tricycles have adopted their trademark styles of having cogon roofs that make them look natively appealing. I saw some of these in Basco as well used in tours.
Chavayan is still quiet without the tourist when I arrived. With the help from my driver, I was able to get a night’s stay at Lola Maring’s Homestay. It’s a two-story stone house near the village entrance marker. I was the only guest that day. I met Lola Maring, she’s 80+ but moves steadily. We had a nice little chat and tells me she came from Savidug Village originally but met her late husband here in Chavayan. So she moved and had her family here. Her son, Harold works in the tourism of the island.
I settled in that morning inside the stone house. I looked at the log book and found some familiar visitors here. Then had some coffee and chat with Ms Linda, one of the vendors near the entrance of the village. Linda is also the one who’s available to do some catering for guest. If one doesn’t bring food, she can cook meals (2 viand, rice and drinks) and bring it at the homestay for Php 200. Not bad for personal service. Since I have been to most places in Sabtang Island, she did suggest that I hike the trail going to Sumnanga. She informed me that there are several trail but the one nearby is the easiest. Though she warns there are trails that leads back to other trails. Just follow the trail with the stone steps and keep right. Sounds simple.
The Old Procession Trail
I remember my tricycle driver telling me that the this old trail should be clear and open. The traditional procession of bringing the image of Mother Mary recently passed by here last May. That was a comforting thought. After lunch I prepared my gear and started the hike.
I followed upward trail after the small bridge. The stone steps were similar to the ones going up the Savidug Idjang. I guess I was going on the right trail. It goes up higher and I could see Chavayan beach from here. As I got deeper into the trail, it became heavily forested. I could hear several bird species here, I’m betting there are a lot.
Over a Mountain
I was quite confident mid trail until it started to branch out to several pathways. I make sure to take photos as markers before trying out a trail and go back if I got lost. I lost way a few times. Good thing telecom signal was good and I have offline google maps. The map may not have detailed routes but at least I know where I’m currently am relative to where I came from and where I’m going. After stopping and studying my route I went back a little and finally found the right route. Midway of the trail I was in a higher ground with a wide dirt trail. I’m betting they were planning to make this a road circumnavigating the whole island.
It was ascending all the way up when I got in a high peak where I could see Ivuhus Island on the West Philippine sea and other peaks. I’m just guessing and I may be wrong but this could be Mt Alapad and the higher peaks on the east are Mt Padang, Mt Valungot and at the southwest is Mt Aharung. From here it was already 820 ft (250meters) according to my altimeter. But the trail still goes up probably as high as 900 feet then the trail continuous to descend. After two hours, I finally made it to Sumnanga.
Chavayan to Sumnanga and Back
According to my trail tracker, I traveled around 5km. It could be less since I had to re-trace my routes when I got lost a couple of times. The hardest part of the trail for me was up the mountain and down. During my hike, I never crossed into any one.
I got my fill of cold drinks and recharge at Sumnanga. It was also quiet that afternoon. I met this old lady who had a dog she conveniently just call “Puppy”. A local noticed me and I told them I just came from the old trail. He offered to take my back to Chavayan on his motorbike but it would cost me PHP 800. I decided to head back the same trail. It was faster this time. It only took me over an hour to get back to Sumnanga since I was already familiar with the trail. And I was also hurrying back making sure I wouldn’t get caught in the darkness while in the forest.
I met Harold, one of Lola Maring’s children. He said I had quite a work out as that trail is not that easy to traverse twice. More so that I didn’t had a guide. He was glad I didn’t encounter any snakes. Now thinking about it, I am glad I didn’t cross into any especially on those grassy areas. Sabtang Island still have plenty of snakes. I recall seeing one Mael captured in his trap. I’m just glad I managed to finally explore this trail which has intrigued me for so long. It can be developed as a hiking trail or a birdwatching area on Sabtang Island.
For Lola Maring’s Homestay contact Harold Gabotero at 0998.408.3800 or 0998.553.9098. Email [email protected]. Lodging is Php 300/night. Food catering is done by Linda Homigo at 0908.367.1799.
Trycicyle from Sinakan to Chavayan is Php 250–300/way.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.